“But since the mere form of knowledge, however completely it may be in agreement with logical laws, is far from being sufficient to determine the material (objective) truth of knowledge, no one can venture with the help of logic alone to judge regarding objects, or make any assertion.” – Kant, Critique of Pure Reason
What the 18th-century philosopher, Immanuel Kant, said in reference to the ancients’ use of the dialectic to get at the content of knowledge could also be said of advertising. Basically, that just talking about something isn’t to know that something. You need to pick it up, hold it in your hands; touch it, smell it, taste it, take it for a test drive.
Most of advertising on the web is the same way. The potential consumer is asked to come learn about an advertiser’s product or service through trial or education. Click through, get to a site, and read more about Product X. Or leave your email address and you will be sent more information. The web allows you, the ubiquitous Other, to get at that Kantian ‘ding-an-sich,’ or thing-in-itself; to virtually roll Product X between your fingers and feel it before you buy it.
Sometime, however, the objective is different. Sometimes the advertiser really only wants you to know their name. The advertiser wants you to think Product X when you are thinking about X. They want to make their name a household word, even if those in the household have no idea what it is. The advertiser wants to start a dialogue with the ubiquitous Other so as to begin convincing him or her that by somehow engaging Product X, the ubiquitous Other’s relationship with the world will be altered for the better.
This is the project of awareness.
When an advertiser wants simply to build awareness on the web (which isn’t necessarily all that simple), the buying strategy must change. You’re no longer simply looking for islands of performance where both propensity to engage the advertiser’s particular value proposition and low costs are stranded. You need people to know who you are.
There is a group of you out there, half of whom are stroking their chins, again like coffeehouse intellectuals, and saying, “But is branding on the web actually possible? I don’t think so.” And the other half of you are doing the same thing, only they’re grinning and saying, “See, I’ve been saying all along that branding is a different kind of buy that isn’t just low CPMs and clicks.”
Well, I caught you looking. Both sides are wrong.
I’ve been saying awareness, and awareness is not the same as branding. These two are so often mistaken for one another it has made the discussion of branding and awareness on the web almost impossible to have.
Awareness is certainly possible, with plenty of frequency coupled with mass exposure. Awareness is the beginning of that dialectic to which I was referring earlier.
Branding, on the other hand, is the relationship borne of that dialogue. It is a three dimensional relationship with Product X. It is the feeling I get when I am exposed to Product X and its value proposition. Is that possible on the web? That’s a different discussion. The short answer is, ‘no;’ the long answer is, ‘sort of.’
So, when you’re going for the online equivalent of share of voice, what and how do you buy?
Well, the strategy may be different, but the sites you buy could be the same. Though you should always be aware of cost, what you should really be looking for is total number of unique visitors and what kind of impact you can have given the amount of inventory you buy.
When you are buying inventory, make the impressions you purchase a percentage of unique visitors rather than pageviews. That way, though there is still no way of guaranteeing you’ll get a unique for every impression you buy, you are buying your online weight in proportion to the audience rather than just the number of pageviews the site is reporting.
Make sure you have Networks in your mix. They are good for testing what kinds of sites perform well for your advertiser, but they can also get an advertiser’s message in front of a lot of unduplicated audience through all of the different site affiliates the Network has.
And heavy rotation on a big-name property never hurt anything (except maybe your budget). High traffic and affiliation with a recognizable online brand can do a lot to both distribute an advertiser’s message and generate some decent word of mouth.
Finally, if an online brand really wants to get serious about big-time awareness, the move to some offline media then has to be taken into consideration.
At the end of the day, with an awareness buy, you can have a little more fun with where you put your dollars, but it needs to be considered with all the rigor of a Continental Rationalist. Once I know who Product X is by experiencing it upon introduction through awareness, then I can begin my relationship with it and move on to the arena of branding.
“In the order of time, therefore, we have no knowledge antecedent to experience, and with experience all our knowledge begins.” – Kant, Critique of Pure Reason